Imlay Canyon in the Spring, Zion National Park, UT


Over the last 13 years, I have done Imlay Canyon many times. I believe I have succeeded in doing it every year since, though my record-keeping is non-OCD, so who knows? About 5 years ago, there was a large fire up on the West Rim above Imlay Canyon, and a large amount of sand washed into the canyon, raising the bottom of the potholes, and generally making it quite a bit easier. Imlay was just not itself, it just gave up too easily. It was a cruise. Well, something happened, and Imlay is back to form. Kinda surprising after a mild winter—one would expect this, perhaps, after a big winter with big floods through the canyon. The trip this spring saw quite a few changes in the canyon, more than usual. Lots of logs cleaned out. Lots of sand pushed out, re-deepening many potholes. It is fun to see Imlay Canyon returning to it's sharp, acerbic, and satisfying personality.

Perhaps it would have been more fun if we were well-prepared for our mid-May descent as part of Brendan Busch's introductory tour of Zion. Thankfully Brendan is energetic and talented, psyched to be in front working out the problems, and clever enough to have snuck a Talon hook into his pack. The team included Stefanos Folias and Dean Brooks, both returning to action from the injured reserve list - though Stefan's injury being his faculty position in Anchorage. Add two cranky, old, barely-function men (that would be me and Ram) and our team was complete.

Ram and some of those guys did Full Left Fork the day before, so we got kind of a late start. Without the pass, we were waiting on the first bus which this time of year is 7 am. Yikes! A kind person braved the wrath of the rangers and drove us in at 6:30, so we hit the trail at 7 am, about 2 hours later than the usual summer Imlay Sneak Route start.

The flowers out were amazing. Lovely purple Penstemon laevis was prominent along the Angels Landing trail, and the Palmer's Penstemon were out too - seems a little early for them...

It was a bit strange to hike up Angel's in the light, since most Imlay trips start an hour before dawn. Being Brendan's first trip up this way, he and Dean dashed off to summit Angels Landing while us slow pokes poked our way up the trail. We waited for them at the small bridge over a branch of Telephone.

Ram and Stefan catching up near the little bridge

Ram and Stefan catching up near the little bridge

We then proceeded to cross Telephone Canyon and hiked up the ridge, then down right for the right hand Sneak route. Thankfully, in mid-May, the sun is not all that high, so we had pleasant temperatures for most of the up-hill sections. We slid down into the canyon and walked down into this former log-soup area to get away from the mosquitoes and gnats, and suited up. Despite the showers the last couple years, the canyon would prove to be quite a bit drier than expected.

Into the canyon! Only a few very short sections of log soup, and none that were swimmer. There was some pretty good light bouncing around up above. The water seemed really cold. There were quite a few significant changes from last summer. The birth canal was choked with log debris, forcing us to go higher and rap down the other side. Several potholes required hooking to get out... thinking the canyon would be fullish, I was foolish and did not bring a hooking kit. We did not even have an etrier! Thankfully Brendan had a Talon in his pack and he put it to good use. A little more gear would have made this a lot easier and a lot faster!

Dean crawling out of a pothole

Dean crawling out of a pothole

The big potholes out near the end proved to be troublesome, taking a lot of time and effort. Since this was Brendan's and Stefan's first trip through Imlay they got to be out front solving problems. Hanging in the back I formulated a new Tom's Law of Pothole Escapes: A. If you are in the front working the problem, you are creative, high-energy, getting lots of stuff done, moving quickly and efficiently - and solving the problem as fast as humanly possible; B. If you are in the back, observing, the people in front are slow, unimaginative, trying things that obviously won't work, fumbling with their gear, and generally taking as long as humanly possible to finally get out of the pothole in the way it was obvious to try all along...

At least, that's the way it FEELS!

Eventually, cold and tired, we get to the last rap, descend, hike down the Narrows, and catch the infamous LAST BUS! This time of year, that was 9:30.


One curious and dangerous thing noticed: On several rappels, the black 11/16" webbing I placed last year was frayed on one end, frayed back to the knot. Call me paranoid if you wish, but I think when the fray goes into the knot, the rigging is no longer safe and must be replaced. I am always a bit disappointed in the casual attitude many people have towards anchor webbing, especially when they are tired and cold... I'm sure many people rapped off these with the webbing frayed back. I replaced 2 or 3 of them with fresh webbing.